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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward
cient searches, and better use of limited law enforcement resources), several persistent challenges to reaching this goal remain.
The technical challenges to AFIS interoperability involve both those that are encountered and addressed by the information technology community in other disciplines (such as data sharing and algorithmic performance) and those that are specific to AFIS and the sharing of fingerprint information (e.g., feature identification, reliability of latent print comparisons). In addition, systems will need to be designed with the flexibility to handle other kinds of biometric data in the future (e.g., iris and palm scans and possibly genomic data). As these latter challenges are addressed, retrieval algorithms within proprietary AFIS systems also may tend to converge, which could simplify the broader interoperability challenges.
Creating useful technical standards is never a simple undertaking, especially given a diverse array of stakeholders, proprietary systems, and ever-advancing technological capabilities (e.g., improved pattern recognition, better hardware, increased data compression). However, the successful interoperability of other distributed information networks—such as modern banking systems (e.g., ATM machines2), information sharing networks in the real estate world,3 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Information Network,4 and even the Internet itself, each of which functions only by reliance on a number of finely crafted and agreed standards and protocols—is proof that efforts to develop and implement standards pay off in the end by allowing greater collaboration and sharing of information.
One other major area of technical challenge to achieving AFIS interoperability involves the algorithms that systems use to identify features in fingerprint images (e.g., how a system determines that a given pattern of pixels corresponds to a true ridge ending or bifurcation and how it infers what type of feature those pixels actually represent). To date, these algorithms
CDC’s Public Health Information Network is a national initiative to improve the capacity of the public health community to use and exchange information electronically by promoting the use of standards and defining functional and technical requirements. The network employs a messaging system (PHINMS) to rapidly and securely share sensitive health information among CDC and other local, state, and federal organizations over the Internet—information such as HIV records, pandemic information, and information on bioterrorism. Complete information about PHIN and PHINMS is available at www.cdc.gov/phin/.